Graphic Novel Review #14: Our Little Kitchen

Creator: Jillian Tamaki

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers

Our Little Kitchen won the Eisner Award for Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8) this year so I had to check it out. This story is based on the Tamaki’s experience volunteering at a small community kitchen in Brooklyn. I found this text to be charming and I believe it will easily find a home in many primary classrooms. This book is perfect for those who love cooking, community and comics!

Check out my inforgraphic? cartoon? below to see some of my other thoughts.

Teaching Considerations:

  • Genre: Realistic Fiction with bits of informational text embedded (recipes)…so hybrid?
  • Units of Study: Small moments, How-to writing, realistic fiction
  • Grades: 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade

Graphic Novel Review: Wynd Book One: The Flight of the Prince

Creators: James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas, & Aditya Bidikar

Publisher: BOOM! Studios

I love fantasy books. I love series. I love gay characters in literature. All of this means I was destined to love Wynd. The world of Wynd reminds me of The City of Ember. (The book NOT the movie!) The main characters are isolated from the rest of the world, there’s a journey through tunnels, and the general uncertainty of who to believe and what is actually true.

Tynion and Dialynas don’t just worldbuild, however, they develop the characters. Wynd, the main character, hides his true self for fear of being ostracized or even worse. He yearns for a “normal” life and cares deeply for his found family. Being gay is part of who Wynd is, it’s not his totality. This story is not about him being gay. He’s just happens to be a gay character in the midst of a fantasy story. I appreciate this approach to inclusion.

The party is fleshed out by his best friend, a prince, and the boy of his dreams. These characters are thrown together by circumstance and don’t mesh that well…and the drama pulls you in. The characters are all brimming with personality. The character designs and body language that Dialynas creates for each character contribute to this as much as Tynion’s writing.

Dialynas draws Pipetown, our initial setting, with a bit of grime. This helps the setting feel more believable. Dialynas is equally adept at drawing the wondrous, magical moments as he is the dark, terrifying bits of the story…which is crucial in any great fantasy story.

Wynd’s story will continue in the upcoming Wynd-Book Two: The Secret of the Wings.

If you have readers who enjoyed Faith Erin Hicks’ The Nameless City trilogy or Mark Siegel’s 5 Worlds series, then the Wynd series should be up next for them!

Teaching Considerations:

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Units of Study: Fantasy, Fiction, Series
  • Grades: 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade

Graphic Novel Review: The Sprite and the Gardener

Creators: Rii Abrego & Joe Whitt

Publisher: Oni Press

“And things are still just fine. More or less.”

This is how Abrego & Whitt set up The Sprite and the Gardener. This book has been described as “gentle fantasy” which means a fantasy story that doesn’t involve fighting or violence of any kind. If you’ve read The Tea Dragon Society, then you’re familiar with this genre.

In The Sprite and the Gardener we learn that sprites used to be the caretakers of all flora, but then humans took over as the keepers of gardens. So, what are the sprites to do? This story follows Wisteria who wants to help humans tend to their gardens. Will things work out? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

You could read this story at a surface level, but if you look closer you’ll find a deeper story. Abrego & Whitt weave a story that teaches the theme that “Change can be good.” That just because something is different doesn’t mean that it’s bad. As this is a quick read, I could see children reading it multiple times to get to deeper interpretations of the text.

The character designs of the sprites are flora-influenced. I imagine aspiring illustrators doodling their own designs of sprites after begin inspired by Abrego & Whitt’s characters. What would a tulip inspired sprite look like? A dandelion sprite?

Abrego & Whitt are also creative when it comes to page layout. They are thoughtful in the way they use irregular panel shapes and borderless panels to infuse scenes with energy and emotion. Their choice of frames also help make their pages dynamic. They shift quickly from long-distance, medium, and close-up shots of moments. I hope to see more work by both of these creators soon.

“But times have changed since then. And things are just fine. In fact, they’re better than ever.

Teaching Considerations:

  • Genre: gentle fantasy
  • Units of Study: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Grades: 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade

Graphic Novel Teaching: Previewing with the Lens of Genre

Previewing is a habit that helps readers set themselves up to read. Previewing allows us to come to the text with predictions of how we think the story might go or what we might learn. As we read on, we confirm or revise our predictions.

Graphic novels are frequently grouped all together even though there may be a myriad of genres represented. By adding the lens of genre to a reader’s preview, they are setting themselves up to bring their literary knowledge of genre with them into the text.

Graphic Novel Teaching: Harmonizing Visual Storytelling & Art

While visiting one of my partner schools, I worked with teachers on helping writers to be more purposeful with the text they include in their graphic novels.

The ideas I share in the video could be helpful for writers to think about in the planning stages (thumbnails & script) or this could be purposeful revision work.

Writers SHOULD NOT be adding text boxes, speech balloons, or thought bubbles just to have more writing in their graphic novel. More words doesn’t make a graphic novel stronger. Not every panel needs words. In fact, there are even some wordless graphic novels.

If you’re teaching a unit on writing graphic novels, let me know how it’s going by either emailing me, 111tripleseven@gmail.com, or on twitter, @writtenbyhand.

Graphic Novel Review: Class Act

Creator: Jerry Craft

Publisher: Quill Tree Books & Harper Alley

I’m going to be honest. I held off reading Class Act. I didn’t hold off because I wasn’t interested or I didn’t think it would be good. I held off, because I knew that with the success of New Kid tons of people were going to check it out even without me hyping it. That being said, I’m so glad I finally did read it.

If you’re not familiar with this book, Class Act is the follow-up to Jerry Craft’s Newberry Medal, Kirkus Prize, Coretta Scott King Author Award winning book New Kid. New Kid is a realistic fiction story based on the experiences of Craft and his two sons as they attended private schools.

In Class Act, Craft tells a story that provides a different perspective than found in most literature. I realize this is a “different” perspective for me, because I’m a white man. I can just imagine how powerful it is for young students of color to read this book and feel seen. I imagine it’s similar to how I felt reading Flamer.

Class Act has a wide cast of characters which create a rich world for Craft to tell his story in. You could read Class Act without having read New Kid, but why would you not want to read New Kid?!

My favorite bit of cartooning with Class Act are the comics that the character Jordan creates. These “kid-created” comics provide a way for Jordan to reflect on the events of the book and share his thinking. This is a powerful storytelling technique that adds more depth to Jordan.

Teaching Considerations:

  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Units of Study: Realistic fiction, Social Issues
  • Grades: 4th Grade, 5th Grade, Middle School

Mentors for Graphic Novel Writing: Arc Dogs & Broken Summer

After reading Maker Comics: Make a Comic! I checked out JP Coovert’s website to see what else he had to offer and I’m SO glad I did! I think that both Arc Dogs and Broken Summer could be incredible mentor texts for anyone taking on graphic novel writing with their students right now or even next school year.

You can see me talk about these books in the video below or read the write up underneath.

These comics will be accessible mentors for kids for a few reasons.

  1. They’re only about 20 pages long. This length feels less forboding than using a 100 page graphic novel as a mentor.
  2. They’re black & white. It will be wonderful for kids to see that a comic book does not have to have color to be engaging and clearly tell a story.
  3. The story focuses on four characters. Sometimes when kids are first starting their graphic novels, they want to create these epics that involve a cast of 20! Beginning with a more manageable cast might support writers in creating a clearer narrative.
  4. JP Coovert expertly uses the tools of the medium to tell this engaging story; he plays around with fonts to give characters voice, he changes up panel shapes to create a sense of action, and his cartooning creates personality in his characters through their facial expressions and body language.

I would guess Arc Dogs would be considered book one, so read it first. Broken Summer is an anthology of seven short stories that you read on their own, but together create a continuous narrative using the characters from Arc Dogs.

Written by Hand,

Eric

Graphic Novel Review: Maker Comics: Draw a Comic!

Creator: JP Coovert

Publisher: First Second Comics

When Andrea Bell mentioned that her next project was an installment of the Maker Comics, I realized I had never read anything from the Makers Comics series. This was something I needed to rectify immediately. I scanned over the topics included in the Makers Comics series; Fix a Car!, Bake Like a Pro!, Grow a Garden! and then I spied Draw a Comic! I think the ending writes itself.

Makers Comics: Draw a Comic! by JP Coovert was a delight to read. As I was reading this book, I had Melissa Stewart’s Five Kinds of Nonfiction in mind. I don’t have Melissa’s expertise in nonfiction, but Draw a Comic! feels like a hybrid text to me, a mix of informational fiction and active nonfiction.

The active nonfiction parts were my favorite. Draw a Comic! includes 5 comic book activities that are connected with a fictional narrative (that’s the informational fiction part.) The way that Coovert uses the images in the panels and the dialogue of the characters to give clear, step-by-step directions is something to admire. His clarity of storytelling and teaching is something I strive for.

I learned SO much from this text. I finally know what the T square I own is for! I also know I’ll be purchasing a long-reach stapler in the near future. (No idea what I’m talking about? Read the book to find out!)

If you’re teaching the TCRWP writing unit that Hareem Atif Khan (@hareematifkhan) and I wrote called Graphic Novels: Writing in Pictures and Words, I highly recommend this text as an additional resource. (…and before you ask, No, the unit hasn’t been published yet. Last I heard from Heinemann, 2023 was the expected release year.)

To wrap up, I’m excited to check out another Maker Comics book to see if they all live up to the quality of work of JP Coovert. Perhaps I should check out a topic in which I’m novice? Fix a Car! perhaps? I truly enjoyed Coovert’s cartooning and I can’t wait to read more of his work. So I checked out his website to order more of his work (and MAYBE a Rex I love comics pin). You should too!

Teaching Considerations:

  • Genre: Nonfiction, but if you want to specific…hybrid text: informational fiction & active NF
  • Units of Study: nonfiction, active fiction, how-to, comic book/graphic novel
  • Grades: Fourth Grade, Fifth Grade, Middle School

Graphic Novel Review: Flamer

Creator: Mike Curato

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

“THIS BOOK WILL SAVE LIVES” reads the quote from Jarrett J. Krosoczka on the cover of Flamer and I couldn’t agree more. Growing up, I felt the same feelings that the protagonist, Aiden, feels in this book; the feeling of isolation, of being an outsider, or being “wrong” somehow. You have kids in your school that feel this way too. They NEED this book.

Aiden is a fully realized character. He struggles every day with his own self-worth and the burden of trying to fit in. Everything he does makes him stand out when all he wants to do is blend in. The rest of the characters flesh-out the world of Flamer; the hunky crush, the acquaintance who slowly becomes a friend, the well-meaning scoutmaster. The interactions between these characters feel so real, I think I may have actually had these exact conversations with people.

Curato uses several visual storytelling techniques of note. Throughout the story Aiden has several different fantasies or dreams. During these the panels no longer have the sharp corners of rectangular panels and instead have rounded corners. The gutters also become black during these dreams. The combination of these two techniques make it clear what is happening in the real world and what is in Aiden’s mind.

Color is also used to great effect. The art is black, white and red. Pay attention to the items that Curato chooses to make red; the letter, the knife, the flames. Does red always symbolize the same thing? Or does it shift from scene to scene?

I read Flamer in one sitting. I think you know several readers who will do the same thing. Be sure to check out Curato’s blog post about Flamer found here.

Teaching Considerations:

  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Units of Study: Realistic Fiction, Identity, Growing Up,
  • Grades: Middle School, High School